I need to get serious about a Plan B for drinking water.

Since the very memorable July 2013 I’ve been hauling my drinking water from town, and it hasn’t worked out very badly in all that time.

In summer I keep a 10-gallon reserve but there’s no good way to keep it from freezing so in winter I just go with my 3 3-gallon bottles. Sometimes we come down to the wire, especially since now Little Bear drinks the same RO-filtered water I do, but we’ve never actually run out.

But this morning I didn’t want to go shopping at all, because I’m broke. Therefore I didn’t want to take 2-3 hours out of my day to go all the way to town just to buy 9 gallons of water. But I needed the water. So I went, and it was really irritating.

Of course I have a perfectly workable short-term Plan B: There’s nothing actually toxic about the well water, it’s just very hard with calcium. When it comes out of the tap hot in summer you really have to force it down, but it’s not bad in winter at all. But now I’m used to the filtered water. LB started having obvious bladder problems a couple of months ago and I put him on the same water I drink – something I should have done years ago – and the problem eventually went away, so I’m not much interested in going back to well water even temporarily.

Which means I think my winter project is going to be a solar still.

Screenshot from 201
I’ve had the plans for one on my ‘pooter for years. It’s a clearly imperfect solution since the output would necessarily be very low but if it works at all it would be better than nothing. And “better than nothing” would still be better than the well water.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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17 Responses to I need to get serious about a Plan B for drinking water.

  1. bmq215 says:

    Joel, does it need to be a solar still? That’s fine in the summer and all, but it sounds like your real crunch point is during the cold months, aka exactly when a solar still is the least likely to work.

    I seems to me that with the wood stove you’ve got a perfectly good heat source that’s a lot more concentrated than the sun. Might take a little finagling but essentially all you need to do is rig some food-safe high-heat tubing to the spout of a teakettle and run it into a suitable cooling vessel. A glass jug near the wall would probably do fine. That way you’ve got something with a lot more output that will perform in cold months too and can be adapted to work with anything that’ll burn. Plus any steam that sneaks past your seals will help to humidify the lair.

    Of course the kettle will eventually get full of scale but an occasional soak in vinegar should fix that.

  2. Ben says:

    You know, that still won’t be free to build, it will be a PITA to use, and it’s output will depend on weather conditions. Technology marches on, so these days Amazon has five-stage under-sink Reverse Osmosis units for under $200. The particular unit I was looking at even has pretty good reviews, They take no power, but do use about five gallons of water for each gallon they produce. It appears that you would need to replace the filter cartridges annually for about $30,00, which is likely far less than you are paying for water now.

    Do any of your neighbors have these things? If so, are they happy with them?

  3. Joel says:

    Yeah, D&L used reverse osmosis for a few years. It required power – apparently quite a lot of power – and wasted so much water they produced a pond with actual cattails in the desert. It attracted varmints. They started trucking in their water from town.

    That’s the only impression I ever got about RO, but it left a mark.

  4. JayNola says:

    I think bmq’s solution of using waste heat from your stove maybe be the actual ticket. Little copper tubing, a cold water reservoir, a steam catchment, and a boiler/ kettle of some origin. Preheast the water with some tubing wrapped around your stack, have it drop into your boiler already warm… It’d be steam punk desert hermit time.

  5. feralfae says:

    Joel, if you have any room and any way to store water in the house, perhaps under your bed, it will store thermal value and mitigate temperature swings in your home. And give you fresh water reserves, too. Just a thought.

  6. DOM says:

    RO does take a lot of power, which is fine if you need RO and have power… I like the still concept actually… plus it’ll look really cool!

  7. Norman says:

    You’re buying bottled water, and have to travel to do so.

    Is there a source of water within a reasonable distance that meets the necessary quality standards and/or does not require energy input, either small or large, to meet the quality standard? If so, would a water trailer be a reasonable solution? I’d guess (but do not know) that surplus military water trailers are available. What the jeep’s capacity for pulling such is an unknown.

    Or, since you already have a trailer, a water bladder might be a solution; there must be a cheaper source than Amazon, but they have them in sizes from 60 gallon to 300 gallon. No clue as to how well they’d hold up. There are also IBC totes (intermediate bulk container) in 275 and 330 gallon capacities, each – roughly – a 4 ft cube, which are available and much more rugged. (Also – roughly – 2300 lbs and 2800 lb filled, so there’s that…). Way back when, we used a pair of the 330s on a modified car trailer as the water source for several months during construction before we got to the point of drilling a well.

  8. Anonymous2 says:

    Check the Internet before you rule them out, but I don’t think all RO units require power (the ones with UV do) or produce gallons of waste water but they may require water pressure you don’t have. I’m researching buying one too. I do what feralfae suggested, but don’t store the water under my bed in case the containers leak. The containers are in an indoor superinsulated unheated location where a leak won’t matter. Maybe you can do an insulated box out of the wind? if a discarded container comes your way, or in the ground storage.

  9. bmq215 says:

    Jon, that looks like a great little filter and would be awesome to have around in a SHTF situation but it won’t do anything for hard water. A 0.2 micron filter will take care of bacteria but the calcium and magnesium ions that Joel wants to get rid of are about 1000 times smaller than that. Plus they’re smaller than the water molecules themselves so you’ve gotta resort to funkier physics and chemistry (i.e. distillation, RO, or softening agents).

  10. Joel says:

    Norman, to clarify I’m not buying bottled water as such. We supply the bottles, we just buy water from a reverse osmosis dispenser. There are two in the little town nearest where I live, and one at an ice plant ‘way on the other side of town. There are also two water stations that sell water by the barrel-load. At first (when I first moved here) we hauled our drinking water a hundred gallons at a time but the barrels are (far!) too heavy for me to manage by myself.

    Lots of desert people don’t have their own wells, and use cobbled-up water trailers in entertaining variety. These are very common. They get incredibly foul and I’d never drink from an experienced one no matter where you told me the water comes from. Most of those people buy their drinking water separately, same as us.

  11. Ben says:

    Also this discussion needs to get back around to rainwater harvesting, even if you only use it as feedstock for a still or some sort of filter. At least rainwater is soft.

  12. midwestmike says:

    Why not store more water in your bedroom as it is heated? I have a Berkey that I just love. Expensive up front but will filter many thousands of gallons of water with no power needed.

  13. Douglas2 says:

    Not sure if this is a gated paper: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/gch2.201600003/full

    To increase the efficiency of a solar still, the water tray in a construction such as yours gets a bunch of square pucks placed on top, each puck made from polystyrene foam insulation sheet holding up a TexWipe that has been dyed black by carbon-black powder — the edges of the TexWipe are folded over the packing-foam square so that they rest in the water-pool, and capillary action draws water up to where the action of the sun through the glass is warming just the black wipe, not the whole volume of water, so the efficiency of creating water vapour goes up tremendously.

    A version of the article with better DIY pictures is here:

    But isn’t so great for gleaning their actual materials sources and the dimensions of the square pucks — they’ve worked the dimensions out so that the whole of the wicking surface stays wet.

    Any sort of sun-concentration mirror also helps a lot.

    Anyway, if you build your MotherEarthNews version and it’s not performing well enough, this looks like a fairly simple and cheap retrofit.

  14. anonymous says:

    I was going to suggest transpiration bags, but that may not supply enough water as well.

  15. Goober says:

    Joel, one more vote for an old pressure cooker still. You don’t actually put it under pressure, you use the pressure relief port as the steam collector to feed your copper condensing tube. On top of your stove to use that heat. Free reclaimed energy, and humidifieS the cabin incidentally.

    Only, don’t make a habit of drinking distilled water. It’s bad for you. Pulls minerals out of your body. Get electrolytes to add back in and you’ll be ok.

To the stake with the heretic!